Bible of the Right Concedes on Gay Marriage
Well, that makes it more or less official: A recent spate of articles that has shown the National Review moving closer and closer toward acceptance of marriage equality has culminated in an admission that the ground has permanently shifted.
In a Mar. 18 article entitled "Gay Marriage Gains Ground," Michael Barone concedes that "support for legalization crosses party lines." Beginning with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s recent op-ed in the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch Barone points to another conservative GOP superstar, former Vice President Dick Chaney.
Both men have gay children, which led them to change their minds. But Barone doesn’t mention such other darlings of the right such as Ted Olson. The man who successfully challenged Al Gore in the Supreme Court case that gave George Bush the presidency, Olson and his wife were long considered among the most rigorous and profound thinkers of the New Right.
In recent years, Olson has become a hero to gay activists for taking his brilliant legal mind and applying it to the so-far highly successful court fight against California’s Proposition 8. Olson has said that he believes same-sex marriage is not only right but also fits right in with conservative principles.
So why is the National Review so important? Founded by William F. Buckley, the man who is perhaps most responsible for the resurgence of modern American conservatism, in 1955, the magazine bills itself -- with some justification -- as America’s most widely read and influential magazine and web site for conservative news, commentary, and opinion."
Buckley may have been the mastermind behind the spectacular flameout of Barry Goldwater’s run against Lyndon Johnson for president in 1964, but he also became a savvy talking head on the then-fresh medium of television.
Buckley’s TV show "Firing Line" became must-watch TV for the Burgundy-and-brie set. He regularly locked horns with liberals, but his most famous bout came in 1969, when he debated Gore Vidal. No Marquess of Queensbury rules here: These guys went at each other like raging bulls, using libel suits and insults as their capes and swords.
The match-up of two Ivy League, silver spoon New York aristocrats from opposite sides of the political spectrum created one of the most famous feuds in modern American literary history.
When Gore called Buckley a "crypto-Nazi," Buckley leaped from his seat and yelled, "Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered."
Buckley later said of Gore’s homosexuality, "The man who in his essays proclaims the normalcy of his affliction, and in his art the desirability of it, is not to be confused with the man who bears his sorrow quietly. The addict is to be pitied and even respected, not the pusher."
Most notoriously, early in the AIDS epidemic, Buckley called for sufferers to be isolated and branded with a tattoo. To be fair, his wife went on to do AIDS fund-raising and, more notably, was perhaps the best friend of the legendary New York socialite who was one of the first, most visible, most active, most empathetic and most effective supporters of Gay Men’s Health Crisis in its critical early years. No less than Larry Kramer has called her a saint (and Kramer is hardly one to dole out praise to anybody).
The magazine has long been a spear-carrier for pet causes of the right. That’s why its sea change is so significant.
On Mar. 13, the magazine reported that one prominent GOP pollster found that same-sex marriage was "inevitable." Calling it "another issue that would limit the growth of the Republican party," the pollster also noted the remarkable acceleration of acceptance that now crosses party lines.
"In the previous 20 years, the increase of support for gay marriage had been about 1 percent a year," Jan van Louhuizen reported. "Somewhere around 2009 there was an increase to 4 or 5 percent. It’s like a hockey-stick curve. All of the sudden there is this elbow."
More importantly, anti-marriage advocates have become marginalized into an increasingly tiny demographic of "Evangelical whites, tea-party Republicans, older voters, and whites that do not have a college degree."
These are not the typical readers of the National Review, who tend to be of the professional class or business executives and are as likely to live in light-red enclaves of blue states, such as Manhattan’s Upper East Side or Boston’s Beacon Hill, than in Muskogee, Oklah., or Huntington, W. Va.
On Sunday, there was another dramatic statement from yet another hero of the Right. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who faced down a recall vote after he renegotiated contracts with state workers, said on "Meet the Press" that younger conservatives are so accepting of marriage equality that it will soon cease to be an issue in political races at all.
Walker, who in the past has compared same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia, now believes that the issue is obscuring the GOP core message. "When I talk about things, I talk about the economic and fiscal crises in our state and in our country," he said. "That’s what people want to resonate about. They don’t want to get focused on those issues"; i.e., like same-sex marriage.
If the most prominent intellectual on the right, George Will, hasn’t exactly endorsed same-sex marriage, he soft-peddled the seismic shift as a move from traditional conservatism to a right-leaning libertarianism. Will was speaking specifically about the recently completed CPAC, the right wing’s most prominent annual gathering, held in Washington, D.C.
Other than Sarah Palin, who was guaranteed to throw red meat (or at least a giant soda) at the adoring crowd, the best-received CPAC event was apparently an "outsiders" gathering that approvingly discussed same-sex marriage.
Like bread crumbs leading to a majestic house, the long and very recent string of articles, statements and public discussions keep returning to the same themes: Young people see opposing same-sex marriage as a betrayal of the core conservative value of less, not more, government regulations over human behavior. A great many of them are making common cause with those gay activists (and others) who believe that marriage should not be sanctioned by the state at all, but by clerics and religious institutions.
Or not at all. Civil unions would take the place of legal marriage, with places of worship still able to bestow blessings on the wedding vows outside of the law.
Whatever it’s called or whatever it becomes, the union of two unrelated adults regardless of sexual identity or orientation is rapidly -- and unexpectedly -- becoming as accepted here as it is in most of Northern Europe.
At CPAC, the change in the Grand Old Party was noticeable in the fact that the big-name speakers seemed to run from it, as though it were too hot to handle -- or toxic if he did. No one called for extending the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Even Rick Santorum, easily the most prominent anti-marriage equality candidates last year, didn’t bring up the subject or wouldn’t comment.
Finding itself in the unfamiliar role of wallflower, the board of the Family Research Council, in a statement, bemoaned, "Twenty years ago, reiterating what the Republican Party stands for wouldn’t have been newsworthy. "Our movement has entered an age when silence does more to define conservatives than sentiment."
Reflecting a new reality (possibly) that voters might actually want elected officials to concentrate on bread-and-butter issues, an operative close to Santorum told Polotico, voters are "not going to bed at night worrying about gay marriage, quite frankly."
In other words, they are more and more seeing it as a loser, a drum that hurts the ears of voters who would hear noises about jobs, a recovering market, their home’s value rising and Social Security stabilizing.
The National’s Review also-ran much younger journal of right-wing opinion, seems to be ignoring the issue in favor of New Right causes like the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Whether to the most remote villages of the steppes, or the no-less treacherous field mines along Washington’s K Street, GOP operatives are quietly trying to move their candidate or office-holding clients away from marriage to the military (ooops, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal); to big business and bigger moguls (except that gay men like David Geffen, Tim Gill and Peter Thiel have "hijacked" the conversation.
It increasingly looks as though an unregenerate homophobic right-winger can’t turn anywhere for support.
Sports? Pro teams and their players rapidly emerged last year as the most vocal supporters of gay marriage, against bullying, and acceptance. Gay gay gay gay. The clergy? Although the Catholic Church and a few fundamentalist Protestant sects are mounting a rear-guard action, the mainstream denominations, including two of Judaism’s three major U.S. branches and nearly all the "parlor Christian" churches to which America’s elite belong, left the anti- group a while ago.
When Clint Eastwood, who emerged as the one breakout star of the GOP 2012 national convention in Tampa last year, later said he supported gay marriage, it looked as though the only vocal supporters were those who make their living from their stance. And erosion of support, active members and donations among groups like the National Organization for Marriage, are leaving these holdouts stranded to marshal whatever troops remain for non-winnable battles in states like Rhode Island, Hawaii, Colorado and, now it appears, even the bellwether of bellwether states, Ohio, is rapidly shifting ground.
Where Ohio goes, goes the nation has been a mantra of politics for the past several elections. That’s why the view the absence of any substantial negative fallout from Portmans’ 180-degree turn as the most telling evidence yet that voters, if not all of their elected leaders, have decided that a marriage between those two nice ladies who live down the block means a lot less than whether an elderly straight couple can stay in a house underwater on its mortgage.
Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).